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The Buddha

Burmese Bhante, the Visionary of Bodh Gaya, died on Wednesday 6 October 2021, aged 86

Burmese Bhante, Venerable Sayadaw U Nyaneinda, Abbot of the Burmese Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India died at 7.26 am on Wednesday 6 October 2021, aged 86 in Myanmar.

Last year, he returned to Myanmar for eye surgery. Owing to the lockdown, he could not return to his beloved Bodh Gaya. He contracted Covid in Myanmar and although he appeared to recover, the virus weakened his lungs. Burmese Bhante quietly faded from this world.

Monks, nuns and laypeople gathered this week in the Burmese Vihara to pay tribute to Burmese Bhante, the Visionary of Bodh Gaya. Bhante means the Venerable One, a term of respect used for Buddhist monks.

Burmese Buddhist authorities appointed Burmese Bhante the Abbot of the Burmese monastery in the village in 1976 at the age of 41. U. Dhammetsara had the role of Abbot from 1936-1943 followed by U. Otiama until 1966. From 1966 to 1976, U Tilaka took over responsibility.

Burmese Vihara is the first monastery you pass on the original road from Gaya to Bodh Gaya. Ven. Nyaneinda welcomed and hosted small groups of Burmese pilgrims until the military coup in Burma reducing numbers of Burmese pilgrims.

Thousands upon thousands of Buddhists worldwide make a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, mostly in the cool months between October and March, to witness the spot where Gautama the Buddha realised the truths of human existence and liberation from the suffering involved in it.

Few of the pilgrims from Myanmar, Thailand, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Korea etc, many Western countries and countries elsewhere will know of the immense contribution of Burmese Bhante – his popular name endured year after year long after the Burmese government changed the name of the country to Myanmar in 1992.

During the 1970s, Burmese Bhante set about expanding the use of his monastery enabling Westerners, mostly spiritual seekers, travellers and hippies, to stay in the monastery to practice meditation. They stayed in run down huts squashed together along the foot of the walls of the monastery. Thousands practiced in his monastery between the early 1970s stretching for more than 30 years.

Burmese Vipassana teacher, Munindra-ji offered guidance in Vipassana meditation. Between 1966 and 1969, he was probably the only English speaking Vipassana (Insight Meditation) teacher in India in this period. Burmese born, S.N. Goenka of Indian origin gave 10-day Vipassana courses for around 80 participants, mostly Westerners, on the roof of the Burmese Vihara (Monastery) inside a multi-coloured marquee.

In 1979, Burmese Bhante accepted the request of the Antioch Programme from the USA to provide accommodation in the monastery to around 30-40 students, aged mostly from 18-22, to engage in the practices and study of the Buddhist tradition. Under the guidance of Robert Prior and assistant teachers, the students stayed in Bodh Gaya from September until December learning and practising in the Theravada, Tibetan Mahayana and Zen tradition. The annual programme continued year after year running into decades.

The students made the shift in this period from the study of Buddhist philosophy and theory in university to an experiential approach in Bodh Gaya. Many experienced a change in their lives in values and priorities after four months in Bodh Gaya.

Arthur McKeown, current director of the Buddhist Studies in India Program, wrote a precious tribute this week to Burmese Bhante.

Burmese Bhante familiarised himself with every aspect of Bodh Gaya including knowledge of the land and landlords. Buddhist patrons and monks consulted Burmese Bhante on the purchase of land, prices and deeds of sale. His quiet influence contributed to establishing many monasteries during his 50 years in Bodh Gaya. His advice enabled Burmese institutions to develop in the area for students, pilgrims and monastics.

Landowners, the local Indian community and internationals trusted Burmese Bhante knowing his honesty and integrity. He lived the most modest of lives as befitting such a monk.

Monasteries as well as our school invited him to attend functions as guest of honour. Graciously, he came preferring to sit quietly rather than give a public talk.

In many respects, he was the Visionary of Bodh Gaya, as well as being the senior Abbot in the village, a home to dozens of Buddhist monasteries. He developed friendships with the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee (BGTMC), business community, monastics and pilgrims.

Bhikkhu Bodhipala, 52, a respected scholar, served as the head monk of the BGTMC for years, as well as a member of our Prajna Vihar School committee.  A revered Indian monk Bhikkhu Bodhipala, 52, died from Covid on 27 July 2020, He dedicated his life to serving the needy and the poor. Both monks shared a similar vision of service.

The knowledge and expertise of Burmese Bhante enabled the Buddhist tradition to develop in Bodh Gaya. Without his presence, Bodh Gaya ran the risk of rampant corruption in major land and building projects.

A Pioneer of Bhikkhuni Ordination

As with other major world religions, Buddhism developed into a patriarchy despite the Buddha establishing full ordination and nomadic way of life for women. His radical initiative gave equal rights to women inspiring their upliftment in society.  The ordained Sangha of Women (Bhikkhunis) faded away seven centuries ago due to political/social factors at the time.

Senior abbots in the Theravada tradition said the bhikkhuni tradition could not be revived as there were no senior nuns (10 years of ordination) to ordain women. I recalled our meetings and correspondence in Bodh Gaya, Sri Lanka and the West in 1997 and 1998 to see what steps to take including fund raising to support a nunnery in Sri Lanka when lay Buddhists there offered land for the newly ordained.

We. women and men, monks and householders, needed the support of a highly respected Abbot of a major monastery in the Theravada tradition to put his weight behind bhikkhuni ordination. The Abbot would have to handle the backlash from the conservative influences in Buddhism.

Burmese Bhante stepped in as the Archariya (spiritual teacher/spiritual consultant) for the 1998 Bhikkhuni ordination in Bodh Gaya with its historical significance in the history of Buddhism. Two years later, a further major ordination took place for women from India, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. Some bhikkhunis faced pressure upon return to their home country.

In 2008, Burmese Bhante supported Buddha Vision Bhikkhuni Training in Bodh Gaya and subsequent gatherings of ordained nuns in Bodh Gaya.

In a tribute to Burmese Bhante, Ven. Tathaloka Theri from Washington DC, USA, a senior bhikkhuni and consultant on bhikkhuni ordination, wrote this week of her gratitude to Ven. Nyaneinda:

“I deeply commend Sayadaw U Nyaneinda’s life and work, especially but not only for bhikkhunis–for all of Buddhism–in so many ways. He was a shining example of humility and patient, kind presence in such an extremely difficult and challenging situation (bhikkhuni ordination). It is almost impossible to imagine how what he did was possible. “

Burmese Bhante and Prajna Vihar School

Before the start of our school, I gave a single morning class, via a translator, for 20 days to around 50 poor children who came every morning to the Thai Monastery. With the kind assistance of an Indian monk resident in the Thai Monastery, Rick from USA found a teacher and classroom in a monastery for 20 of the children for the rest of the year. This led to two bamboo huts on a plot of land until we raised the donations (dana) to purchase a piece of land owned by a Tibetan, a few minutes’ walk from the Bodhi Tree,

Burmese Bhante spoke little at our school meetings. When we invited him to comment on an upcoming project, he spoke quietly. All of us leaned our body in his direction to catch every word he said. He spoke from experience and knowledge of every feature of Bodh Gaya.

As the school slowly expanded, we increased classrooms. From the early days, Bhante acted as the overseer for many of our projects including the land, buildings and the surrounding wall. He ensured the wise use of donations to order machinery, sand, cement, wood, windows, floors etc. He would sit in front of the workers making notes of every bucket of cement, every brick, etc. Bhante took personal responsibility for appropriate payment for wages and goods ensuring the school received the receipts for our expenses.

Our head teacher would consult Burmese Bhante on matters of the school and the village to ensure harmony and mutual understanding. He knew more about life in Bodh Gaya than the rest of us on the school committee put together.

Prajna Vihar School committee and trustees supported the school year after year. Kerstin from Brisbane, Australia brought college students in their teens to Bodh Gaya to learn and share with our pupils and experience the religious/cultural tradition of Bodh Gaya. Along with Burmese Bhante,  Bhikkhu Bodhipala, a Catholic nun as head teacher and our other Indian trustees/committee members ensured our vision of an inter-religious school. The Bandharis, both senior citizens, would take the 16-hour train journey from New Delhi to Gaya to attend the AGM (Annual General Meeting) of the school every January or February and offer supportive advice.

The school earned the deep respect of the village for its capacity to educate thousands of children from the poorest homes in Bodh Gaya. Today around 600 children attend the school.

Burmese Bhante played a key role as our unofficial ambassador throughout the year so locals, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and secular understood our inter-religious vision of education. The school holds a unique place in such inter-faith diversity of teachers and approach.

I gave 20 days of teachings every year from 1975 to around 2016 in the Thai Monastery for around 100–130 practitioners. During this time, I would make the walk once every year in the late afternoon to the Burmese Vihara to sit in the grounds and talk with Burmese Bhante.

I recall a couple of decades ago the two of us sitting outside around a fire to keep warm as the temperature in early January had dropped to a few degrees. Burmese Bhante called over a young temple boy to ask him to fetch us a couple of chais. I asked the boy, aged around 14, if he could speak English. Modestly, he said “a little.”

He responded in English to all my questions. After several minutes, I asked him what school he attended. He replied: “Prajna Vihar School.” Phew. I did not anticipate his answer. It brought a tear to my eye.

Our free school accepted children from the poorest families who could never send their children to school. Before their education, such children often begged the pilgrims from around the world for food and money on the streets while living in huts no different from the Middle Ages.

After listening to the youngster, I wanted to go and hug every teacher in our school. Some Prajna Vihar graduates attend university and engage in prestigious jobs in India and overseas. The children have uplifted the families, their sense of dignity and their economic circumstances.

Burmese Bhante kept a mindful eye on the school day after day, year after year, so it stayed steady in its development.

As the boy walked away, Burmese Bhante and I looked across to each other and smiled.

Thank you, Bhante. A life truly well-lived.

Photo shows Burmese Bhante

Link below

Buddhism and the Global Bazaar in Bodh Gaya
David Geary
The 252 pages thesis contains an accurate account in detail of religious/cultural/social life of Bodh Gaya, including arrival of Westerners between the 1960s and 2003.

13 Points for Social and Environmental Change

Lists and bullet points serve a useful function as we can easily neglect to address specific areas we wish to address. Doubts about being effective can easily set in when we become reliant on three or four points to create a change.

I take my inspiration for this approach from the Buddha, who offered literally hundreds of lists to communicate the depth and expanse of his teachings. Continue reading 

The Buddha adopted a Relaxed Attitude to Nakedness

The Buddha extolled the virtues of the homeless wandering seeker. He described householders’ life as crowded and dusty while a life gone forth is wide open.” (Middle Length Discourses Sutta 36). That generalisation may have rung true then in a lifestyle of extended families living in the same building but for many of us today our homes are neither crowded nor dusty (unlike some monasteries!). Continue reading 

The Buddha, Spiritual Seekers, Parents and Young People

The Buddha and his Meetings

with Spiritual Seekers, Parents and Young People

11,118, words

 Background to the Buddha’s Meetings:

The Buddha engaged in numerous conversations with parents, children, teenagers, students, householders, and the elderly from secular society, as well as meetings with novices, monks, nuns, ascetics and priests in various religious and spiritual traditions in India around 2600 years ago. The discourses (suttas) also show the depth of inquiry of all ages and backgrounds taking place in northern India in that period of human history. Continue reading 

Five Dreams of Gautama the Buddha with his interpretation. A brief Jungian analysis of the dreams. Plus nine dreams of this blogger (2003-2005) with brief interpretation

In the summer of 2003, I started seeing Julian David, a senior and respected Jungian analyst at his home near Totnes, Devon, England. I regard these meetings as an invaluable opportunity to explore the dynamics of relationships, love, authority, responsibility, Eros, Sophia, animus and anima.

Julian asked me to write down my dreams and bring them with me to the 60 minute session.

At the first meeting, I told him I rarely have a dream, perhaps a handful of dreams in a year.  I cannot recall having a nightmare, nor experience anguish or anxiety in daily life, but I was committed to looking into the depths of the inner life in fresh ways.

Julian told me I would have a dream the night before a consultation. He was right. In this time, I travelled to four continents a year to teach the Dharma. I would go to bed at home thinking I have not had a dream for a month or two. Then wake up remembering a dream. I would then leave to see Julian. We would sit in two armchairs besides the fireplace in his study at Luscombe Farm outside Totnes.

About a year after the first consultation, I told Julian of the five dreams of the Buddha just prior to his enlightenment. (AN 5. See Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, number 113, page 14), translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi. It is the only place in 10,000 discourses where the Buddha refers to his dreams.

Julian was very keen to see the dreams. I printed them out from the Pali text and took them with me. I read the dreams without telling him of the Buddha’s explanation of the dreams.

The discourse reads:

“Before enlightenment, while still a bodhisattva (a Buddha to be) five great dreams appeared to him:

1. He dreamt that this might earth was his great bedstead; the Himalaya, king of mountains, was his pillow; his left hand rested on the eastern sea, his right hand rested on the western sea; his two feet on the southern sea.

2. He dreamt that from his navel arose a kind of grass called tirrya and continued growing until it touched the clouds.

3. White worms with black heads crawled on his legs up to his knees, covering them.

4. Four birds on different colours came from the four directions, fell at his feet and turned all white.

5. He climbed up a huge mountain of dung without being soiled by the dung.”

The Buddha-to-be then reflected on his dreams.

Julian said he interpreted the dream from a Western viewpoint of the 21st century not from an Indian viewpoint going back 2600 years.

He said: “If a client came to me and told me he or she had these five dreams, I would treat the client as an ego-maniac suffering from immense self-delusion.”

We both laughed. He added: “I don’t think the Western interpretation is appropriate with the Buddha.”

I then told him of the Buddha’s explanation adding “It is hard to imagine such a contrast in interpretation,”

Gautama’s dream revealed the expanse of the Dharma, via the awakened mind (meaning of the word buddha). The teachings/practices can spread through the whole body of life to transform the pollution of the world. Buddha-Dharma can change the world from sky above to earth below, from darkness to light (black to white) for the benefit of all beings in the air and on the ground without being soiled by the state of things.

His dreams had a prophetic nature to it since the Buddha-Dharma spread throughout the sub-continent of India from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka and as far west as Afghanistan and throughout the rest of Asia. The teachings now take root in the West appealing to religious minds, secular minds and spiritually minded.

Nine Dreams and Interpretation

Here are nine of my dreams I shared with Julian. I wrote the one-line summary after the dream following the exchanges between Julian and I on the significance of the dream.

At the risk of the “I” being enmeshed in the “I”, here is a summary of the dreams “I” experienced between August 2003 and November 2005, and the essence of the reflections that accompanied the dreams.

1. August 15, 2003

I was standing on the studio floor. The chat show host was about to interview Sting (the rock singer). Sting did not want to be seen. The chat show floor was in semi-darkness with Sting’s face hidden from public view. I was asked to interview Sting instead of the chat show host. Sting agreed. As I began to ask him questions, he warmed to the questions, his face went from darkness to light.

Reflection: How the power of attention lights up a public role.

2. March 10 2004

I was standing on Reading Railway station platform with Catherine, (a Gaia House teacher), after we returned from India. The train came in. I hurried up the platform to get to the front carriage. She said that I left my backpack behind. I went back to the backpack on the platform. The top of the backpack was open and the clothes were all clean. I picked up the backpack and walked back up the station platform.

Reflection: Although the backpack was open, what had I turned my back on?

3. June 25 2004

I was in a green field on a lovely summer day. I was standing in front of a thin redbrick wall in the middle of the field with Meichee Patomwon, a beautiful Thai Buddhist nun. We have been friends since we were in our mid-20’s. She had a little red lipstick on.  Buddhist nuns never wear make-up. There were four or five friends standing in front of us who were also smiling.

Reflection: Does the red lipstick signal danger?

4. October 26 2004

I am driving in a small car along a very icy, winding road to take two friends, Gail and Hal from California, home to their city apartment. The two of them are sitting on the back seat. I have to be mindful all the way because of the icy conditions, and other cars driving fast. I drive just past their apartment block to park the car. I turn around they have disappeared. I was surprised. Gail and Hal shout down to me ‘We are here.’ I wave back, happy to see them, and then walked back to the parked car.

Reflection: Figures come in and out of consciousness, in and out of our life. We must take care of all – inner and outer.

5. December 12 2004

I went swimming in the Red Sea. I suddenly spotted a beautiful dolphin. The dolphin soared out of the water and up into the air. I had the capacity to do the same. In complete harmony, the dolphin and I dived down into the water, turned around, and soared straight up in the air, turning and diving down, again and again.

Reflection: A liberated, non-dual bliss.

6. March 17, 2005

I was walking to the top of Crystal Palace hill in South London. There were others walking as well with me for a big gathering (not a football match). Some of us walked lightly and quickly but there was another crowd walking more slowly carrying baggage. There were only a few of us at the top of the hill, who were very welcoming. It was a lovely day with magnificent views all around. I looked down and noticed that the front left wheel of a taxi was stuck in the mud, so we lifted it up to get it clear. At the top of the hill, I could hear beautiful voices singing in the stadium.

Reflection: There is much to be seen from the highest point especially including others to help get unstuck.

7. May 2 2005

Nicole and I (anima and animus) went to Thailand to visit my old monastery, where I spent three years. To my surprise, it was a monastery without any huts left. They had all gone. The grounds of the monastery were beautiful with flowers and trees everywhere – like a small park. Nicole and I just walked around appreciating the gardens.

Reflection: Has the religion of Buddhism disappeared from my life leaving only the nature of the Buddha-Dharma?

8. June 15, 2005

I decided to go and buy some wine at the local shop. The wine manager knew his wine, he was about my age, and very likeable. He suggested three brands and told me to sniff the lovely aroma of one. I thought that I had no money with me. I put my hand in my wallet and pulled out the wallet. It was absolutely fat with money. Hundreds if not thousands of £££’s. I paid him for the wine and put the rest of the money back in my pocket.

Reflection: I feel rich even in my dreams and feel nourished through the five senses as well as the enjoyment and appreciation of authority, inner and outer.

9. November 16 2005

I walked into a den of lions. I knew that I had to sit among them, not panic, stay relaxed, and no harm could come. I did that and the lions proved to be calm and affectionate.

Reflection: There is no substitute for being at peace with oneself. Self and other can support each other.

Dreams shed light upon the waking state. The waking state sheds light on the dream state. Deep sleep and daily clarity offer receptivity to the insights that can emerge from dreams and the waking state.

The Buddha and Carl Jung shared much together with their emphasis on a full waking up/complete individuation.


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